Religious life is a radical following of Jesus Christ in a life of self-giving love that is a response to God’s love for us.
Individuals have felt called to this radical following of Jesus Christ since the beginning of Christianity. These early forms of religious life were often characterized by an intentional leaving the relative comforts of ordinary life to life in the desert to seek God in prayer.
Over time, various forms of religious life evolved in response to a sense of new call, the needs of the Church and the urgent needs of society. Today, we refer to these various forms as Contemplative Communities, Monastic Communities, and Apostolic/Ministerial Communities. More recently, there has been a resurgence of some older forms of religious life such as Hermits and Consecrated Virgins.
Many religious communities trace their origins to the 16th century during a period of great poverty, both literal and spiritual, violence, sickness and ignorance. These conditions impelled many women and men to offer their lives in service to others in the name of Jesus Christ, living the Gospel in the world. New communities were established in the Church to address the needs of the time with their own specific spiritual focus. Today, many of these communities continue to be witnesses to God’s great love through their prayer and dedication to those whom they serve.
“The salient features of this life-form, deriving directly from that of the pre-Easter Jesus himself, include a total, lifelong consecration to God to the exclusion of any other primary life commitment; the integration of a contemplative life of personal and shared prayer with a whole-hearted commitment to full-time public ministry in service of the reign of God.” - Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM
Apostolic/Ministerial Religious Life
The focus of Apostolic/Ministerial Religious Life focuses on ministry and flows from the mission of Jesus to transform the world. In response to the needs of the times, women religious are engaged in a wide range of services, such as health care, education at all levels, lawyers, NGOs, mental health, advocacy for the poor, homeless, immigrants. They are scientists, artists, theologians. All of these ministries, which have a wide variety of services, are carried out in the light of the Gospel. The root of Apostolic/Ministerial Religious life continues to be prayer. These women religious live in community unless their particular ministry requires them to live in an alternate setting.
"Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. It is your eyes through which Christ's compassion looks out to the world; your feet with which he must walk about doing good; your hands with which he blesses humanity; your voice with which his forgiveness is spoken; your heart with which he now loves." - St. Teresa of Avila
Contemplative Religious Life
Contemplative Religious Life is a response to a call from God to enter more fully into the search for God. It is marked by a life of intense prayer and contemplation, cultivated in silence and solitude but lived within a human community that offers the constant invitation to conversion of heart.
A contemplative religious, called nun, lives her life in silence, prayer and contemplation of God while holding the deep needs of the world in her heart.
Monastic Religious Life
Monastic Women Religious make a lifelong commitment to a particular monastic community. Monastic Life is characterized by a life centered on the Eucharist and the rhythm of communal prayer several times a day using the “Liturgy of the Hours.” Silence and solitude are an essential part of the life of a monastic. Monasteries are the centers of ministries carried out by the members. They may run schools and colleges, spiritual centers, counseling centers, outreach to those who are poor through housing and training. Monastic communities often sponsor senior living residences and other forms of living for those in need. The focus of Monastic Life is on prayer, community and service to others.
Other Forms of Consecrated Life
New forms of Religious Life have emerged since Vatican II even as older forms have reemerged. These include, but are not limited to, Hermits, Consecrated Virgins, Desert Mothers and Fathers.